During his inauguration speech Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker had a simple message on one of the most polarizing issues this legislative session.
“In the interests of keeping the public safe from harm, expanding true justice in our criminal justice system and advancing economic inclusion, I will work with the legislature to legalize, tax and regulate the sale of recreational cannabis in Illinois,” Pritzker said.
The Democrat touted the legalization of marijuana throughout his campaign as a means to reduce mass incarceration and reinvest in Illinois communities blighted by the war on drugs.
But if local GOP lawmakers are to get on board, they will want the discussions and debates to be with the understanding that the issue should not solely be motivated by revenue.
State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, said if lawmakers want to have a conversation about the use of marijuana as an issue of liberty, he would be open to it.
“If we’re willing to have that discussion, which comes along with accountability and community expectations and all the law enforcement structure, then I’m willing to have that discussion,” Wilcox said. “If Illinois is going to discuss legalizing marijuana purely because of a revenue stream, then you can bet Springfield is probably going to get it wrong, and we won’t do this in a successful way.”
He added that there will be problems that come with marijuana legalization that the new revenue needs to be allocated toward, such as law enforcement training, development of technology to assist officers and revisions or changes to the criminal code.
“If we don’t set aside funds of the revenue to handle that, then we’re going to end up with those issues after the fact and not have a revenue stream,” Wilcox said.
State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, said during an appearance Thursday in Marengo that Pritzker highlighted a number of progressive changes, such as legalizing marijuana and his progressive tax plan. But none of them will be enough to settle the state’s financial problem, Reick said.
“Our debt problem is too deep to solve with any of those things or a combination thereof,” Reick said. “We need really honest to goodness new ideas as to how we’re going to get out of the debt that we’re talking about.”
Although both Wilcox and Reick are open to the possibility of marijuana, not all GOP representatives are on board.
State Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, has said he is opposed to legalization, but if it were to pass, he would like to know if employers would have any rights on marijuana use within their companies.
One of the biggest local opponents of legalization is McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally, who wrote a letter to seven area lawmakers asking them not to support recreational marijuana legalization.
Kenneally wrote in his letter that contrary to proponents’ claims that marijuana legalization would reduce opioid and alcohol abuse and curtail mass incarceration, evidence indicates greater likelihoods of opioid misuse among marijuana users and upticks in crime.